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In Defense of Fairy Tales (3) – Fall

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2012 at 5:58 am

Of all the evil characters in fairy tales, I found the Red Riding Hood’s wolf the scariest. He’s been called the “Big Bad Wolf,” but that name evokes a canine domesticated by the animator’s pen.  The wolf I encountered alone in the deep dark woods of my imagination, while being read the story of Little Red Riding Hood, was a terror whose title couldn’t be tamed by alliteration.

Fairy tales don’t just present readers with Creational goodness, they also illustrate the results of human failure to obey God’s one condition—the presence of Evil.  So we encounter both nobility and brutality, beauty and ugliness, harmony and conflict; dichotomies resulting from the distortions of a good Creation caused by the Fall.

In this regard, then, fairy tales reflect reality as it is presented in the Bible: that human beings live in a moral universe.  In man’s disobedience to God, sin entered the world and fairy tales reflect the moral struggle that ensues.  For in almost every fairy tale, characters and their actions embody good and evil; and “it is this duality which poses the moral problem, and requires the struggle to solve it” (Bettelheim).  That humans are moral creatures with the choice between good and evil is fundamental to the biblical worldview.

The power and scope of evil is another truth that faerie stories offer.  In them we encounter external evils, like ogres, wolves and villains whose very presence is a sign of the evil that threatens and “often it is temporarily in ascendancy” (Bettelheim).

Evil not only an external threat but is also found in “the closest circle of intimate relationships.” Most often this intimate evil is signaled in the form of stepmothers.  These tales depict “perverted relationships within the family . . . the [reader] learns that despite all the moral teachings and the wide range of appropriate behaviour hammered into him, he cannot take this world for granted—especially not people” (Shokeid).  Scriptures clearly relate that evil is not only a force from without, but also something with which we struggle within ourselves and within those who are closest to us.

In “Cinderella” we find this situation in that Cinderella’s mother, “who had been the nicest person in the world,” was replaced by a stepmother who was “the haughtiest, proudest woman that had ever been seen” (Perrault).  The hyperbole emphasizes the effects of sin are not experienced only by the wicked, but also by the good: Cinderella, “who was of an exceptionally sweet and gentle nature.”  Under the guise of close relatives, the [step relatives] function as agents who introduce the outside unprotective world into the safe family shelter” (Shokeid).

Many parents believe that children should not be exposed to realities of evil but only to “pleasant and wish-fulfilling images . . .—that [they] should be exposed only to the sunny side of things.  But such one-sided fare nourishes the mind only in a one-sided way, and real life is not all sunny” (Bettelheim).  Rather than taking the child out of reality, fairy tales presents him with the reality of the fall—that life is “a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence” (Bettelheim).  Through the symbols of evil the child experiences the presence of evil and the moral dilemma that sin presents; they begin to develop the resources to live in a fallen world.

Encounters with injustice and, occasionally, brutality bring the reader into another important Biblical reality.  Because fairy tales expose the tension that exists between the good creation and the sin that has entered it through the fall, they provide a sense that things are not as they should be; they create in us a longing for a restoration of all things to what they once were.  C. S. Lewis uses the term Sehnsucht to describe this feeling which literally means “longing” or “yearning.”  Because the yearning is for what has been lost, “the crucial concept in defining this attitude is best expressed by the English word ‘nostalgia.’  In Sehnsucht there “is an underlying sense of displacement or alienation from what is desired” (Carnell).  All mankind has a deep awareness that there is something wrong with the world and “longs for and strives toward the happy ending so vividly expressed in fairy tales” (Meider).  What we long for is the perfection we enjoyed before the Fall.

. . . crossing the line between fantasy and reality

Fairy tales appeal to us because they tell us something that we desperately want to be true.  They illustrate what we long for and suggest it is a possibility; they provide us with hope that we can become what we were created to be.  Lüthi says, “Every man has within him an ideal image, and to be a king, to wear a crown, is an image for the ascent into the highest attainable realms.”  This ideal is found in all humanity because we are aware of our fallenness.   Nothing is how it is supposed to be, so we long that it be restored—redeemed.

Cinderella create a sense of longing in the reader.  Cinderella was an exceptional young woman, but the stepmother “could not endure” Cinderella’s “excellent qualities” and so, mistreated her—she “thrust upon her all the meanest tasks about the house” and “made her sleep on a wretched mattress in a garret at the top of the house” (Perrault 39).  The combination of the goodness of Cinderella and the injustice of her treatment at the hand of her step-relatives creates a sense of longing for the past, for life as it was when her real mother lived.  This is Sehnsucht.

In “The Reason For God,” Tim Keller talks about beauty being a clue to the existence of God.  He suggests that “innate desires correspond to real objects that can satisfy them”; we experience hunger, thirst, and the desire for sex and friendship, and these needs can be satisfied with food, drink and other people.  The presence of beauty, joy and love evokes an “unfulfillable” desire in us, and we “want something that nothing in this world can fulfill” (134-135).  Keller says that because it is true of other innate desires, it is also true of this one: there is something to satisfy it—or more accurately, a someone.

Although many deny its existence, Evil is real.  Those who believe in the existence of evil, might want to question where they are standing when they are amongst those who treat them too lightly and declare them mere fantasy.  Or those on the other side of the room who consider them evil because they contain it.

Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (1) – Introduction
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (2) – Creation
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (4) – Redemption


Resources:

Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Struggle for Meaning.”  Folk & Fairy Tales. 3rd ed. Ed. Martin Hallet and Barbara Karasek. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002.  376-391.

Carnell, Corbin Scott.  Bright Shadow of Reality: Spiritual Longing in C. S. Lewis. Grand   Rapids: Eerdmens, 1974.

Keller, Timothy.  The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton (2008).

Lüthi, Max.  Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington:IndianaUniv. Press, 1979

Meider, Wolfgang.  “Grimm Variations From Fairy Tales to Modern Anti-Fairy Tales.”  The Germanic Review.  62.2 (1987) : 90-102.

Perault, Charles. “Cinderella.” Folk & Fairy Tales. 3rd ed. Ed. Martin Hallet and Barbara Karasek. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002. 39-45.

Shokeid, Moshe. “Toward an Anthropological Perspective of Fairy Tales.” The Sociological Review 30 (1982): 223-233.

In Defense of Fairy Tales (2) – Creation

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2012 at 6:12 am

We get a lot of rain in south western BC so we often talk about it, often disparagingly.  We fail to see magic anymore—even when it drops out of the sky and hits us on the head.

We think about rain in the same way we have been trained to think about many things.  In science texts, rain is presented as a result of a series of intractable processes.  First, water in the ocean is obligated by impersonal forces to do something we have called evaporation; as it moves inland and cools at higher altitudes the water vapor begins a process that human beings have named condensation; eventually, gravity takes over and the water falls in some form of what we have labeled precipitation.  Why does water do these things?  It does it can’t do anything else.  We expect it.  It’s the law—Natural Law.  We have named all these mindless processes, the water cycle.

Think about it.

What is happening here?

WATER IS FALLING OUT OF THE SKY!!!

This is incredible! Water is falling out of the sky!

What kind of a world is this, where water falls out of the sky?!

It didn’t have to be this way, but it is!

What is reality?  Does nature tediously adhere to natural law, or is it “a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful” (Chesterton).

Which is more consistent with the Biblical teaching of Creation?

The Bible begins by telling us that God made everything and it was good (Genesis 1:31).

. . . crossing the line between fantasy and reality

This means there is no such a thing as an ordinary thing, and Chesterton claims that fairy tales help us to remember this truth.  In the fairy tale we encounter a golden apple and this brings back to us the “forgotten moment,” and the ensuing thrill, when we first discovered that they were green.  We come to see the creation, not as slavishly following a deterministic law, but joyfully producing green apples again and again, like a child who wants to be thrown into the air one more time.  “Again . . . again . . . again.”  It is not law, but “magic” that we find in creation.  There is no wonder associated with law, but there always is with magic.  It is because they ought to invoke our sense of wonder, that Chesterton can claim “[a] tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree.  Water flows downhill because it is bewitched.”

Tolkien refers to this characteristic of fairy tales as recovery.  It is the quality that “allows us to stay ‘childish,’ in the sense of viewing the world in the same way a child does—as if everything is brand new.”  We recover the sense of wonder that creation affords, “not seeing things as they are, but seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them” (Northrup).  This recovered sense of wonder is not “a mere fancy derived from fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this” (Chesterton).  According to Chesterton, the natural response—the child-like response—to the creation is one of wonder.  And the immediate effect of wonder is praise.  To be filled with wonder at the world around us and to respond with praise to the creator is to be brought back to reality, not drawn from it.

In the fairy tale “Cinderella,” through the presentation of the extraordinary, we experience the ordinary as brand new.  When Cinderella’s fairy godmother transforms an ordinary pumpkin into “a beautiful coach, gilded all over” and six ordinary mice into six “dappled mouse-grey horses” (Perrault), we see anew the commonplace pumpkin and mouse as exceptional. Because they were turned into something different we can, with Chesterton, marvel at their original state.  Which is a greater marvel, a carriage or a pumpkin?  Because it could have been otherwise, we get a sense that in the orangeness and roundness of a pumpkin, “something has been done” (Chesterton) by a creator.  Mice and pumpkins are not as they are simply because they must be; Chesterton proclaims it magic and then stands in awe of these ordinary creatures.

How much more enriching is life when we live in a world where there are no ordinary things?

******************

So fairy tales help us to see the reality of the wonder of Creation. But there is another Creational truth that fairy tales help us to see—the reality of limits.

Cinderella’s fairy godmother “bade her not to stay [at the ball] beyond midnight” (Perrault)—this was her incomprehensible condition of joy. Happiness depends on not doing something: if Cinderella stays beyond midnight, she will be humiliated and lose her happy-ever-after ending. This is a perspective that the fairy tale provides and it is consistent with the conditions found in Eden. Accept the curfew and happiness will endure, leave after midnight and suffer humiliation; do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge and enjoy paradise forever, eat of it and “you will surely die.”

Man was placed in God’s good creation to enjoy and prosper, but there was a condition—that he “must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” for to eat of this tree would bring death (Gen. 2:17). This prohibition seems arbitrary and irrational, but upon it hinges life itself.

Chesterton recognizes this biblical reality in fairy tales where we find “incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition.”  He calls it the “Doctrine of Conditional Joy.” Chesterton metaphorically compares this condition to glass, a prevalent substance in fairyland.  “Strike a glass, and it will not endure in an instant; simply do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years.”   The fairy instruction is, “You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word ‘cow.’”

Although these fairy restrictions may seem arbitrary and irrational, they are not unfair. When held up against what we can do, we should not be resentful of the little thing we cannot do.  Chesterton’s illustration of this point is monogamy.  Many chafe under the Christian restrictions of sex only within marriage, all the while failing to see, and be grateful for, the great gift that sex is [Read “KD, Bud and Sex”]. Chesterton thought that “existence was itself so very eccentric a legacy that [he] could not complain of not understanding the limitations of the vision when [he] did not understand the vision they limited.” The thrill of what we can do outshines that which we cannot do and our happiness depends on obeying the restriction. This aspect of fairy tales is consistent with reality as presented in scripture.

Fairy tales present the biblical truth that our continued happiness rests on a condition of obedience.

Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (1) – Introduction
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (3)Fall
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (4) – Redemption

Resources:
Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
Northrup, Clyde B. “The Qualities of a Tolkienian Fairy-Story.” Modern Fiction Studies. 50.4 (2004) : 814-837.
Tolkien, J. R. R. “The Monsters and the Critics.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

In Defense of Fairy Tales (1) – Introduction

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2012 at 8:07 am

Many years ago, I had to defend the use of Madeleine_L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time for use in my 7th grade classroom.  Fortunately, the key figure in the battle was so exhausted from a prolongued war in another school district that they no longer had the energy to wage this war again.  Later, there was a battle over whether books in the Harry Potter series ought to be in school libraries.

In an on-line article entitled “Christian Fantasy: Biblical or Oxymoron?” the author asserts:

God would not have His children take refuge in unreality . . . .  If a Christian is loving the Lord with all his mind (imagination), he will be dwelling on truth, reality, His Word, and Him, not fairy tales and fantasy!  . . . Because fantasy is anti-reality, it is against godliness, it opens the door to deceit, and is an affront to the very core of your being as a Christian.

Although this position is extreme, there are many Christians who are suspicious of fairy tales because they contain magic or other impossibilities.  They mistrust these stories fearing they are an unhealthy escape from reality.

Escape FROM Reality

Those who take this view, often see fantasy in opposition to reality.  I contend this is a false dichotomy.   Rather than being the opposite of reality, fairy stories bring us back to reality—a biblical reality, for in reading them we can experience the wonder of Creation, the presence of evil and brokenness caused by the fall, and the hope of redemption.

J. R. R. Tolkien was apparently familiar with the argument that escape through reading fantasy literature and fairy tales was harmful.  His response to this charge is found in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” He agrees that reading such things is an escape, not an escape from reality, but an escape to reality.  He compares the escape of the prisoner of war to the flight of the deserter and suggests that the kind of escape provided by fairy tales is that of the prisoner.

He argues that these stories do not take us unjustifiably away from our duty to cause and country which gives the enemy the advantage, as in the flight of the deserter.  Instead, the escape we experience in these tales is that of the prisoner of war from an enemy so that we can go home and return to fight another day.  His argument is that we misunderstand reality, and in so doing, misunderstand the nature of escape.

. . . crossing the line between fantasy and reality

Tolkien is not alone in his belief that fairy-tales actually return the reader to reality.  G. K. Chesterton argues as much in his book Orthodoxy.  He says, “The things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales.”  Although each fairy tale contains a healthy principle particular to itself, Chesterton is not concerned with these specific truths “but with the whole spirit of [fairy] law . . .  a certain way of looking at life” which is rooted both in our experience and in the scriptures.  Frederick Buechner’s chapter entitled, “The Gospel as Fairy Tale” is found in the book, Telling the Truth.  In it he discloses the truths found in fairy tales—the fundamental truths of the gospel.  For Chesterton and Buechner, fairy tales return us to reality—the biblical reality.

Escape TO Reality

When these authors use the word reality, they mean the reality presented in the Scriptures.  The Old Testament tells of a God who created all things and declared his creation good.  Evil is not a part of creation; it is not found in the structure of the universe but is in the human heart and in our disobedience to God’s will.  Man was created good, but ‘fell’ by his deliberate choice to turn away from his creator.  The redemption element says that because of his love for us God will redeem us; he will forgive us when we turn back to him.  We are powerless to save ourselves from evil, but God is actively seeking to rescue us.  Accepting the Hebraic understanding of Creation and the Fall, Christians have expanded the notion of Redemption.  They believe that Jesus Christ is the epitome of God’s redeeming love and power – and that this redemption is available to all humankind and even the whole creation through him.  In short, reality is what the Bible tells us about Creation, the Fall, and Redemption.  This is the reality to which fairy tales bring us.

Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (2) – Creation
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (3)Fall
Read In Defense of Fairy Tales (4) – Redemption

Resources:
Buechner, Fredrick. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. San Fransisco: Harpers, 1977.
Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
“Christian Fantasy: Biblical or Oxymoron.” Biblical Discernment Ministries. Ed. Rick Miesel. June 97. <http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/fantasy.htm>.
Perault, Charles. “Cinderella.” Folk & Fairy Tales. 3rd ed. Ed. Martin Hallet and Barbara Karasek. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002. 39-45.
Tolkien, J. R. R. “The Monsters and the Critics.” The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

 

 

Christian Tipping

In Christ and Culture, Rants on August 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Overheard one morning in a New York Subway near Broadway:  “I only made eleven dollars last night because it was a gospel show and the people only wanted the complimentary ice tea and they wanted it now!”

This young man experienced what so many in the service industry already know—when it comes to tipping, Christians are cheap.  Servers do pretty well in tips during the weekday lunch hour because the shopping and business crowd aren’t cheap.  Evenings are even better for tips because lovers, friends and partiers also aren’t cheap.  But the tipping pool dries up for Sunday lunch (and gospel concerts) because here come the Christians.

A friend of mine, and an experienced server, said that they had never met another server who wanted to work the post-church rush.  The reasons?  Customers on Sunday afternoons are “rude, impatient, and the least self-aware people [they] have encountered while working in the restaurant business.” And yes, Sunday afternoons are notoriously bad for tipping.

Here are some things you need to know if you ever go out to eat:

  • Servers make minimum wage or less.  Where alcohol is served they can be paid less because it is assumed they will make money on tips.
  • Many servers, especially when starting out, work few shifts and those can be as short as two hours.  In general, a server is lucky to get 20 hours a week in one restaurant.
  • Higher-end restaurant have fewer seatings, so, although the tips will be larger because the check is larger, the waiters make less money than they would in a restaurant with higher turnover.
  • The more courses you order, the more your server has to work on your behalf.
  • The person who waits on your table will split their tips with the kitchen staff.
  • In some restaurants, the kitchen tip is a simple 15% of the table receipts.  This means that if you tip only 10%, it is theoretically possible for the server to be out of pocket for the evening.
  • It is not customary to tip in all parts of the world.  The language of generosity is not the same everywhere.

My friend insists that there are some wonderful customers in after church on Sundays, but she added that she “would rather work Friday nights with the drunk people than Sunday afternoons.”

What do these this firsthand experience with Christians say about us and our Lord?

1 Timothy 6:18-19 (ESV) says of people who can afford to eat in restaurants and go to Broadway gospel shows: They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

What might we say about ourselves, and more importantly, about a life in Jesus if we were to follow Biblical teaching and be polite and generous customers?

My server friend is a Christian and she really enjoys what she does.  Perhaps it is because she is a Christian that she is such an excellent server.  It’s in how she views other people.  She works hard to facilitate their experience while in the restaurant.  She does this by showing respect and being pleasant.  She listens to what they say and tries to intuit what they need so that she can give them the best service possible.  This, for her, is the essence of the service industry, but is it not also the essence of living in Christ?  To love and respect people because they are created in God’s image and to put their needs over yours?

Yes, servers are paid to do this, but Christians are commanded to do it.  But there is an even more compelling reason—we have been recipients of God’s Grace and, so, out of gratitude we share that grace with every human being with whom we come into contact—including our server at a restaurant or at a Broadway gospel show.

. . . crossing the line between knowing and doing

I thought it was awesome that my wife’s reaction to over hearing the conversation in the New York subway was the same as mine.  We both looked at each other, I am convinced by the Spirit’s prompting, and whispered something like, “I want to do something about that.”  It turns out she’s much more generous than I am, because she doubled what I had in mind.  When I gave him the overdue tip, I told him that we were Christians and that this means we take joy in giving.  And we were sorry he wasn’t treated more generously the night before.  His face was a combination of disbelief and joy, as was that of his companion.

My wife explained to me her view as we walked away.  She firmly believes that the cost of the evening is not just the meals and the tickets to the show; it’s the tips as well.  If people can’t afford both, then they can’t afford to go out.  It’s wrong to make your server subsidize your night out.

For Christians to be considered generous, we need to exceed the standard.  The standard is around 15% in a restaurant, five dollars on the bed in the hotel every morning and at least a couple of dollars for every suitcase that someone handles for you.  And then, of course, we need to express the joy and gratitude that comes from living in the generous Grace of our Redeemer.  Perhaps then our servers would prefer spending time with us on Sunday afternoons, or better yet, Sunday mornings, than with the drunks on Friday nights.